Guestwords: Where Magic Happens

John McCaffrey
3 min readMay 29, 2023


Lately I’ve made the most of being a full-time resident of the East End, particularly when it comes to fishing the ocean beaches. The activity entails walking the shore and casting and reeling in at varying speeds. I do not use bait, only artificial lures. And on the whole, I am unsuccessful in hooking anything other than strands of stray seaweed. But it’s achingly beautiful no matter the weather or the waves, and I am grateful and beyond fortunate to have such an exquisite environment to enjoy.

But still, I’d like to catch something, particularly striped bass. For those who don’t know, it is a fabulous fish, gorgeous in color and shape, and intelligent in its method of gobbling up prey. While there are many approaches to snaring a striped bass with rod and reel, I’ve lately been swayed by the wisdom of an experienced angler who encourages targeting “the lip.” Not the fish’s mouth, but a horizontal slice of water not far from shore — the intersection where a spent wave, heading back to sea, meets a forward-moving wave. This connection causes the incoming wave to curl forward, forming the lip. And this is where the ace angler says to cast.

Why? Because of turbulence. The opposing flow of water foments swirls and whirls, kicks up the bottom, and limits visibility, disturbing and disorienting chubs and shad, sand crabs and sand eels, shrimp and squid, and other prey-size aquatic creatures caught up in this mini-maelstrom. And with their balance off and their natural defense mechanisms altered, they become an easy meal for predators like striped bass that cruise through the chaos with stealth.

So, I’ve begun to fish the lip. And while I’ve yet to land a keeper in this space, I have snagged onto a metaphorical idea to explore: What is “the lip” in human life? Luckily, I have access to the brilliant and open mind of Jason Kurtz. He is a leading psychotherapist in New York City, the author of a memoir, “Follow the Joy,” and a playwright. When I asked him to opine on this question, he wrote back:

“I think, for me, the idea is that the lip, the turbulence, is where transformation for people occurs. When everything is normal, peaceful, we just go about our daily lives, generally without a thought. It’s when something happens that disturbs our peace, our routines, that we are forced to examine what we are doing. There’s an idea that a crisis contains both danger and possibility. Things can go wrong, of course, but things can also change for the better. By casting into the turbulence, you throw your lure into a space where unusual, unexpected, dangerous, but also possibly magical things can happen. It doesn’t happen randomly (just like it’s not random in the sea) — it’s a confluence of forces, which often occur because something is not working right. It’s a chance to assess what is going wrong and to change course/do something different. Turbulence is often what brings someone into therapy.”

Jason offers a good way to look at tough stretches, rough patches, challenges, and travails. Life can be dizzying, disruptive, and despairing. When we are in these turbulent times it is easy to lose our bearings, to be swallowed up by the predators of our world: those encouraging the easy way out, those tempting the numbing of pain through vice or greed, those who seek allies for their cruelty, those who promise relief but at the price of your dignity and soul.

But if you can instead see the situation as a platform for change, these unsteady periods will no longer feel unstable but foundational, a place where magical things can, and will, happen in your life.

John McCaffrey’s latest collection of stories is “Automatically Hip.” He lives in Wainscott.

Originally published at



John McCaffrey

John McCaffrey is a writer and a professor at The Rochester Institute of Technology.